For Burdekin region schoolgirls Alaya and Ellyana Mugica, the classroom extends far beyond their school hours.
When their dad, Ayr farmer Frank Mugica, heads out into the paddock on his tractor, the seven and 11-year-old girls are right behind him, learning the day-to-day operations of the family’s enterprise.
For Mr Mugica, it is part of a vision he has for his daughters to inherit the farm, which is uncommon in Australian faming families.
In fact, it is estimated 90 per cent of farm successors are sons.
Mr Mugica’s traditional Spanish culture, though, incorporates a higher level of gender equality in farm succession planning.
“My heritage is Basque, a region of Spain, and over there it’s the third or fourth child who inherits the farm,” he said.
“If it’s a daughter well they take over the business.
“I’ve got a cousin who has taken over the business ahead of three boys, and she continues it on — she hasn’t backed away.”
For the third-generation sugarcane grower, farming into the future means an emphasis on science, technology, and strong managerial skills.
“Our children need, our daughters need, to be taught to collaborate with people to help them make decisions and manage employees to run the farm,” Mr Mugica said.
Daughter Ellyana loves learning to drive and shows friends around the farms her family have owned, but also takes a keen interest in agriculture.
With the increasing professionalisation of agriculture, Mr Mugica believes farmers’ education has to start at a young age.
“I remember looking at soil maps and showing my daughter Ellyana; it was like geography for her and she could relate subjects she was doing at school to the soil mapping,” he said.
There is evidence that things are changing on Australian farms, but many women in the industry still do not identify as farmers.
Back in 1993, problems with drought around Mackay led to the establishment of Women in Sugar, a network to discuss a range of issues, from growing to milling and marketing.
The group’s Jill Fox said the contributions of women to farming sugar cane were invaluable.
“A lot won’t acknowledge themselves as farmers but they do play a crucial role.”
A former cattle grazier, Mr Mugica thinks the sugar industry has a way to go to improve female participation and bridge the gender gap.
But he believes the cane industry is lagging behind, despite growing numbers of women involved in agronomy and grower services.
“There might be a girl, like you see those agronomists who does want to run the farm, but their parents didn’t think they could, but they can,” he said.